A fractal is a never-ending mathematical pattern that is self-similar across different scales. Every time you look closer, you see another layer.
The UNFCCC negotiations have a similar pattern. Every time you look closer, you see another layer. The news reports coming out of Paris are using a confusing array of terms: ADP contact groups, spin-off groups, and informal informals. What looks like a bewildering arrangement of groups has a structure and purpose as countries move towards a final agreement on a post-2020 climate regime.
COP 21 negotiations take place in layers. Each layer reduces the number of participants and increases the intimacy. The negotiations start at the ADP, the body tasked with producing the negotiating text for Draft Agreement and a Draft Decision that will be presented to the Conference of the Parties on Saturday December 6. The COP will then be responsible for finalizing the climate agreement.
The ADP process has 196 Party participants and it is shepherded by two Co-Chairs who oversee the ADP contact group. The ADP contact group serves as the organizational heart of the negotiation process. The ADP contact group has spent three years of painstaking negotiations trying to build consensus on the shape, scope, and content of a post-2020 climate agreement.
With only a few days left to find a consensus, the Co-Chairs are using more focused discussion to spur movement from the Parties. The Co-Chairs are creating spin-off groups to discuss specific portions of the Draft Agreement and Draft Text. Spin-off groups discuss specific Articles and related portions of the Decision text. The spin-off groups are lead by a facilitator selected from the Party delegates. The facilitators are tasked with focusing the discussion and seeking areas of common agreement. The spin-off groups break their work load into clusters or themes. The clusters are made up of related paragraphs and sections. For example, the Article 9 spin-off group has created five clusters that will be discussed individually on topics such as Principles and the post-Paris Work Programme.
When spin-off groups bog down on a discussion of a specific portion of the text, the facilitators are creating a smaller discussion group known as an informal informal. The informal informals bring together interested parties from the spin-off group to draft text that can resolve the dispute.
While the negotiating proceedings get smaller and more focused, the reporting structure works in the opposite direction. Informal informals report their work back to the spin-off group. The spin-off groups can accept the work done by the informal informal. If the spin-off group accepts the new text, then they report their work back to the ADP contact group.
The reporting structure ensures transparency and equality between the Parties. The ADP process has 196 Parties with vastly different capacities. Developing countries can staff and participate in all of the spin-off groups. Least developed countries can struggle to cover all of the meetings and follow the discussion. Requiring the spin-off groups to report back to the ADP contact group ensures that information is presented in an open and transparent forum.
As you peer into the ADP negotiation process, the layers reveal themselves. What looks confusing has a purpose and a goal. What appears chaotic has a structure. What appears disorganized has a plan. Move the world closer to a post-2020 climate agreement. Make sure that Week 2 of COP 21 can complete the task set out three years ago.